A Sacramento jury is expected to begin deliberations Wednesday in a landlord’s holiday season effort to evict an 83-year-old woman from her home.
Sacramento Manor, a south area senior-living apartment complex that has been in business for 50 years, is trying to evict Dorothy Morris as part of its effort to remove all of its tenants who pay their rent with federally subsidized housing vouchers.
“This particular (eviction) notice, it’s just about the fact the manor, for administrative reasons, honestly, is just not interested in participating in the Section 8 program anymore,” Allison K. Wopschall, the Walnut Creek attorney who is representing Sacramento Manor, said during a hearing Monday in front of Sacramento Superior Court Judge Christopher E. Krueger.
Wopschall told the court during a pretrial hearing that officials in the Sacramento Housing and Redevelopment Agency who administer the federal housing subsidy program “often … don’t pay on time.”
“They pay one check for all residents at the manor instead of each one individually, so if there’s a problem with one resident, it holds up payment for all of the residents in the program,” Wopschall said.
Jessica Dawn Gering, manager of the 260-unit complex just southeast of the intersection of Florin Road and 24th Street, testified Tuesday that eight Section 8 tenants, including Morris, have received eviction notices.
“It was an administrative decision based on an administrative aspect of the SHRA,” Gering told the jury.
Gering said some of the tenants have since reapplied to live in the complex without federal assistance. “And others moved,” she said.
SHRA spokeswoman Angela Jones declined to address the Sacramento Manor complaint. She said her agency will try to contact Sacramento Manor about the evictions of the tenants who are in what it calls its “Housing Choice Voucher” program.
“We haven’t reached the landlord yet,” Jones said. “We do plan to try to contact the landlord to see if there’s any way we could work on giving more time for this woman to find housing, and we are also working with Resources for Independent Living and also Adult Protective Services.
“Our concern is that no one should be without housing who needs it, and particularly at this time of year,” Jones said. “We definitely don’t want her to be unhoused at Christmas time.”
Morris represented herself in the trial that got underway Tuesday in front of Krueger. Gering was the only witness for Sacramento Manor, and Morris made a statement from the witness stand in her own defense.
The woman was precluded, however, from presenting evidence on what she said is the real reason Sacramento Manor wanted her out – the ruckus she raised when she complained in April about a lack of heat in her apartment.
Wopschall, the landlord lawyer, said in court Monday that Sacramento Manor has a heating and cooling system that “can’t be both.”
“My understanding is that in the summer, when the temperature reaches an average of 80 degrees more, they switch to the cooling system,” Wopschall said. “For those who are cold, then the manor will provide space heaters for those residents who are feeling chilly.”
Morris said nobody told her about space heaters, so she went out and bought one herself – and deducted the cost from her portion of her rent.
“When I moved into this place (in March 2013), they told me they furnished heat and paid for heat,” Morris said in an interview outside court. “Then, when I needed heat, they didn’t have no heat to furnish me with. I got cold and almost died of hypothermia.”
A former state clerical worker, Morris said she is a widow who has no children and no family in Sacramento. She said she has a nephew who moved to Dallas.
Eviction proceedings are not new to her. This is her seventh in the last 27 years, according to Superior Court online records. She said she could only recall three previous matters and that each of them involved similar transgressions, in her view, on the part of her landlords.
Sacramento Manor, she said in the interview, had been trying to evict her since April as a result of her complaints about the heat.
Under cross-examination by Morris, Gering admitted that Sacramento Manor had filed at least “one other (eviction notice) that I know of” against the woman.
Judge Krueger, responding to a motion filed by Sacramento Manor, excluded any evidence from coming into the trial that suggested the landlord evicted Morris out of retaliation.
The judge barred Morris from mentioning her complaints about the lack of heat because they were filed more than 180 days before Sacramento Manor served the woman in August with her 90-day eviction notice.
Wopschall’s court papers said Morris lived on a month-to-month lease and that her agreement allowed either party to terminate the tenancy on 30 days’ notice “without cause.”
“Mrs. Morris … decided not to abide by that agreement,” Wopschall said in her opening. “She decided not to leave, for whatever reason.”
Precluded from bringing up the heat, Morris told jurors, “They’re not telling why they gave notice. They’re not letting me give the real reason. They’re not telling the truth about this 90-day deal.”
Tuesday’s trial lasted about an hour and a half, before Krueger sent the jury home, ahead of Wednesday’s deliberations.
During the proceedings, Sacramento County Presiding Superior Court Judge Robert C. Hight visited momentarily in the company of a special guest – Stanford University law professor Mariano-Florentino Cuéllar, who was recently appointed by Gov. Jerry Brown and elected to the California Supreme Court as an associate justice.
Cuéllar could not be reached for comment afterward. Hight said he showed Cuéllar around the courthouse Tuesday “so he could see the various things we do.” On Tuesday, the itinerary included a murder trial, a stop in mental health court, “and then he observed a pro per defendant jury trial” – Morris fighting her eviction, Hight said.